MADISON, Wis. -

Wisconsin traditionally has high compliance rates with childhood immunization requirements, but this year the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is stressing the important of vaccines for students returning to school.

The widespread outbreak of more than 3,700 cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in Wisconsin this year makes the vaccine especially important, said the DHS in a  press release.

“Immunizations are key to ensuring a healthy start to the school year for your child and for their classmates,” said Dr. Henry Anderson, the state health officer. “Following age-appropriate vaccination guidelines will help keep them healthy and in school rather than sick at home with an illness that could have been prevented.”

Middle and high school students must be vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis - the DTaP or Tdap vaccines - according to state requirements. Many children will also need a second dose of the varicella vaccine to prevent chicken pox, a vaccine that is being phased into the state requirements. Parents should check with their children’s schools to confirm whether their children need the second dose.

According to a DHS press release, the seasonal influenza vaccine is already available in many Wisconsin communities, and the recommended target group is everyone age 6 months and older. This year’s seasonal vaccine again includes immunization against the H1N1 virus.

College students, particularly freshmen living in dormitories, are also recommended to get vaccinations. Students should be immunized against meningitis and hepatitis B.

For more information about the Wisconsin Immunization Program, visit the DHS website.